You’ve probably heard of the Drink-Around-The-World activity where you and some strong-stomached companions visit each country at Epcot’s World Showcase and partake of a signature adult beverage in every land. Sounds good to me too, but unfortunately that’s not going to work when your touring partners are a couple of 11-year-old girls.
When my twin daughters, Josie and Louisa, and I were recently faced with an afternoon at Epcot and a two-hour wait for Soarin’, we decided to do what any good Disney foodie would do: eat. Specifically we decided to undertake the G-rated version of country crawl: Candy-Around-The-World.
We set up a few rules for ourselves:
- We had to buy and sample a candy in each Epcot country. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
- The candy had to be as native as possible.
- When in doubt, get a recommendation from a cast member from the represented country.
And off we went to create an international sugar coma. When we started our trek, we happened to be near the Germany pavilion. I’m sure that the intense sugar aroma drifting out of the Karamell Kuche played no small role in the development of our plan.
The German shops sell a number of authentic European treats including German Hachez cocoa bars and Reber Mozartkugeln, as well as the not-so-German Ferrero Duplo sweets, Toblerone bars, and the expatriot Chinese giant gummi bears.
But since we were already in the Karamell-Küche, which sells products from the Germany-based Werther caramel company, we decided to start where we stood.
My daughter Louisa grabbed a bag of chocolate Riesen. Yummy, but we all agreed that there was a disconnect between the mellow chocolate taste of the candy and the overwhelming burnt-sugar smell in the shop, so we decided to also pick up a package of Werther’s original caramels. About the size of a Halloween Tootsie roll, these little bites of pull-out-your-fillings goodness got us moving in the right direction.
The Italy pavilion is the land of Perugina, with by-the-piece, bar, and bagged candy purchase opportunities. I wanted to go for the sophisticated Torroncini that sophisticated cast member Sophia from Rome recommended, but my girls were less than thrilled with pictures of the nuts on the bag.
My daughter Josie made the call to get the Perugina raspberry-filled bar. I have to admit that she made a nice choice, the fruit/chocolate pairing was a pleasant balance of sweet and acidic.
The American pavilion was a disappointment from a candy perspective. Instead of featuring any of the numerous American nostalgic or regional specialty candies (read more about this in Steve Almond’s Candyfreak), or even selling sweets from an indigenous candy behemoth like Hershey or Mars (neither of which seem to have marketing partnerships with the Disney parks), the American pavilion only sold Disney-branded candies, all of which were available in many other locations throughout the parks.
We asked cast member Robert from Florida which candy he would recommend, and he said to us, “How would I know what you want.” While this sounds like a brush-off, he was actually quite polite. I think this was his way of saying packaged candy is packaged candy, it’s all just sugar.
Ultimately Louisa chose the Chocolatears Milk Chocolate Malt Balls. She liked them, but I’m not a malt person. I found them sour and grainy, but that’s the way I feel about all malt, so don’t go by my impression.
In my recent quest to think of types of food service places Disney is missing, I feel like there’s a big void where an old-fashioned penny candy shop should be. Not glitzy and primary-colored like Goofy’s Candy Co. or even tiled, proper Main Street Confectionery, but more authentic, wood-paneled, sawdust-on-the-floor Chutter General Store. I know it would be a pain to maintain, but if you were 8 years old, wouldn’t that just stay in your memory forever? Maybe that whole Magic Kingdom, Frontierland, Country Bear Jamboree area shop system should be gutted in favor of a candy-intensive general store. But I digress …
UPDATE: Check out the new American Adventure candy!
Buying candy in Japan was a much more satisfying experience than in America. The entire back room of the pavilion’s Mitsukoshi Department store is devoted to actual Japanese treats: the near-florescent colors and Anime-esque packaging draws you to nearly every package. Even if you don’t know what it is, you know you want to eat it.
Over the years, I’ve tried many of the Japan pavilion sweets. I have particularly enjoyed lemony suckers; the Japanese seem to understand that sour can be accomplished in a way that’s not annihilate-your-taste-buds astringent.
But on this trip, Louisa chose Chelsea (shown in the first photo above), because the pictures on the bag seemed to indicate that this was a caramel-type confection, and she wanted to compare it to the Werther’s we had earlier. The Chelsea turned out to be a trio of tastes: a generally sweet milk flavor, coffee flavor, and caramel. These were hard candies, not chewy like the German ones. We all preferred the Werther’s caramel flavor to Chelsea, with its more pronounced sweetness and less overt butter aftertaste, but nonetheless we kept the Chelsea bag for later snacking.
I like the roulette aspect of buying candy in Japan. In any of the Epcot countries, if you don’t read the language, you may not be 100% sure what’s in the box, but you can often piece the meaning together using English cognates. With the kanji alphabet, I’m flying blind.
After our success in Japan, we were back to disappointment in Morocco. I’d be generous in calling the non-restaurant food offering here sparse. There simply were no options. Cast member Kamal pointed us to the Halva, a dense, sesame paste sweet. My girls had previously tried Halva after my mother-in-law brought it back from a trip to Israel, and were less than favorably impressed.
Rather than walk away empty handed. We chose to buy the only other sweet: Tiffany Cream Wafers. These would be considered an American cookie, very much in the same family as the Nabisco Sugar Wafer. They’re not bad in concept, but the first bite does have a bit of cardboard feel to it. Not anyone’s favorite.
Then on to France, where they have a much firmer grasp on the concept of confection. Again, like in Italy, there were individual, bar, and multi-serving candy options.
With the embarrassment of sugary riches before them, Josie and Louisa began to squabble about which candy to choose. I ceded the selection to cast member Pierre from Paris. He handed us an assortment box of chocolate squares from Maxim’s. I like the way Pierre thinks!
Moving on to the UK, we encountered the wonders of Cadbury, as well as AJ’s favorite Rowntree Fruit Gums.
Here too, the girls were devolving into sucrose-buzz bicker and we ended up letting lovely cast member Anne give us her vice of choice: Cadbury Orange. We loved the little faux citrus slices. As with the raspberry-filled chocolate in Italy, the Orange was a balanced blend of sweet/tart.
I must confess that we also grabbed a few Cadbury Flakes to bring home. The girls like to crumble them up and sprinkle them on ice cream. Um, me too.
The Canadian candy options were strikingly similar to those in the UK. Lots of Cadbury, with some Disney-branded options and, inexplicably, Swedish fish thrown in. I’m not sure what exactly we were looking for in terms of native Canadian flavor. Maple sugar treats? When I got home, I actually Googled “Canadian Candy” to see if the pavilion was missing out on some fabulous sweets-from-the-North sales opportunity.
Basically what I found was that the Canadian favorites are British imports. I suppose this is not surprising given the country’s history, but the overlap was striking given our quick hop from one nation to the other.
Canadians Brittney and Jennifer helped us out by recommending the Wunderbar: “A Peanut Butter Caramel Experience! C’est Carachidebile!” Seeing that tagline in French made us feel better about the Canada pavilion’s selections. Clearly they were ready to serve their Québécois contingent.
Louisa loved the Wunderbar and wanted to devour the whole thing, but I was starting to fear that the bad-mother police would be after me at any moment due to the undoubtedly near-toxic levels of sugar that were coursing through her veins. I had to take it away from her and nibble on it for a while myself.
My first reaction to the Mexico pavilion’s candy selection was — Jose Cuervo filled chocolates? Si, Si, Ole! But then I thought that maybe adding liquor to my now hyperglycemic childrens’ diets might really be a step too far.
We wandered over to the festive baskets filled with Lisy brand treats: Paleta de Elote con Chile, Banderitas, Obleas de Cajeta, and Limoncito; as well as Yummy Earth brand Organic Hot Chili Pops. Because we couldn’t decide and my willpower had gone the way of El Rio del Tiempo, we chose two: the Paleta de Elote and the Organic Hot Chili Pops.
Although we’ll all eat spicy Mexican food, the Paleta de Elote was too much pure firepower to entice any of us. The girls were also not fond of the Hot Chili Pops. However, I liked them quite a lot — the spice was counter balanced with the softness of sugar in a way that the other pops were not. And I could also see myself using one to stir one of those fancy margaritas sold next door at La Cava del Tequila. Mmmmm!
Norway was another country that seemed to have a candy cultural identity problem. Interspersed with the Norwegian salty licorice were Swedish fish and Swedish Daim candy, which is my secret Ikea-visit vice. I know that Sweden and Norway are neighbors, but that doesn’t make their food interchangeable does it? Despite my concerns about Norway’s identity crisis, I immediately snagged a Daim, because we didn’t have an Ikea visit on the horizon and they are just. so. good.
For our official candy selection, cast member Elsa tried to steer us toward the licorice coins. I’m sure they’re wonderful if you grew up on them, but I had tried this on a previous Epcot visit and nearly gagged on the intense anise. Not for me.
I wanted to give the Firklover a go, but the girls were still in a no-nuts mood. Instead we opted for the chocolate Stratos. The package includes the line “lett, luftig og poros.” This means “light, airy, and porous” and that about says it all. (I also later discovered that though Firklover sounds vaguely illicit in English, the word just means “clover leaf.”)
The last stop on our worldwide sucrose slog was China. While there were a few sweets displayed here, we found nothing like the bounty in Japan and the European countries, just a small table of novelty items that were “made in China” rather than being actually Chinese.
The one candy item we found that actually had some indication of real Chinese origin was Nin Jion Tangerine Lemon Herbal Candy, which we found nestled in a tea display.
The Nin Jion tin contained about a dozen individually wrapped hard candies that to our American palates seemed highly medicinal. The closest equivalent flavor I can think of is herbal Sucrets. I needed a big swig of Beverly to kill the taste.
While I don’t think we’ll be attempting the international candy quest again any time soon (I don’t think either my teeth or my tummy could take it), this was a really entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
The girls learned some cultural lessons — like why all the Canadian candy seems British — and they improved their negotiation skills by lobbying for the purchase of their selection. On second thought, maybe we’ll go for pastry around the world next time.